Rent subsidy called poor fix to Lions Place sale
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The for-profit purchaser of Lions Place will be the “big winner” if the province gives it $1.2 million not to raise the rent or “renovict” its elderly residents, housing advocates say.
The Progressive Conservative government announced last week it will enter into a two-year, $1.2-million rent supplement agreement with the Alberta buyer of the 287-unit, non-profit complex on Portage Avenue.
The Manitoba Housing rent supplement makes up the difference between market rent charged by a landlord and the amount a tenant can afford to pay; it will ensure Lions Place residents pay the same rent for the next two years while a new funding model is being developed, Housing Minister Rochelle Squires said Thursday.
“If the sale goes through, the big winner will be the landlord,” said Shauna MacKinnon of the Right to Housing Coalition. The purchaser is believed to be MainStreet Equity Inc. of Calgary, a real estate giant that buys distressed buildings, fixes them and then increases the rent.
“Potentially $1.2 million in government rent subsidies — Manitoba taxpayers’ money — will be drained out of our province into the pockets of private investors who likely won’t spend a dime in our province,” MacKinnon said.
The province could have purchased the building or provided a subsidy to a local non-profit committed to maintaining rent that is geared to residents’ incomes, she said.
“Once lost to the private sector, it will be near impossible to get Lions Place into the hands of a non-profit housing provider that is not interested in making a profit off of its tenants (and) committed to ensuring that they have a safe, decent, affordable place to live,” MacKinnon said.
A spokesman for the Lions Place seniors action committee agrees.
Once their home is sold and the two-year subsidy ends, their future is uncertain, said Gerald Brown.
“People are saying ‘That doesn’t sound as though it’s really solving anything. It’s just buying off the buyer so that he won’t throw us out.’ They’re saying, ‘What does this really mean? What is really going to happen?’” Brown said.
The subsidy announcement may have tamped down some tenants’ anger about the sale, which was on display during a lunchtime protest in front of the building on Jan. 19, Brown said.
“They’re not as angry as they were before,” he said. “So maybe they’re not furious, but curious.”
Lions Housing Centres Inc. is also curious about why the Progressive Conservative government is promising a subsidy when rent hikes and renoviction aren’t on the table.
“This is a premature Band-Aid solution to an issue that hasn’t come up yet,” said Gilles Verrier, executive director of Lions Housing Centres.
The group decided to sell the building, which needs millions in repairs, after its funding agreement with the province wasn’t renewed in 2018.
Money from the sale will support the charity’s other non-profit housing sites, Verrier has said.
He asked why the province is putting up a rent subsidy before the building is sold or the new owner has done any renovations and applied to the Residential Tenancies Branch for an above-guideline — set at zero per cent — rent increase.
“The Alberta company can’t increase the rent until they spend money on the building and make an application to Residential Tenancies Branch for approval,” Verrier said.
Regardless, the new owner of the building isn’t in the business to provide affordable housing, said Tom Simms, whose 93-year-old mother is a Lions Place resident.
“The business of business is business. The new private owner’s prime objective will be to make money, not serve the needs of seniors,” Simms said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.